Gazan terrorists fired seven rockets at southern Israel early Friday morning and IDF warplanes struck the Palestinian enclave in response, as already-simmering tensions flared, threatening to bring the restive region to the brink of a wider conflagration.
According to the Israel Defense Forces, six of the seven incoming rockets were intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system.
A home in the southern Israeli town of Sderot sustained considerable damage during the rocket barrage. It was not immediately clear if the house was hit by the seventh rocket that was not shot down or by large fragments of the projectiles that were intercepted.
The Gazan rocket attack was the third apparent volley in hours, and came just as Israel carried out airstrikes for the second time since late Thursday night, in a marked escalation of violence after weeks that have seen hundreds of incendiary devices flown into Israel, sporadic rocket attacks, and near-nightly IDF reprisal raids.
The Magen David Adom rescue service said at least three people were being treated for anxiety attacks after at least one rocket was shot from Gaza toward the city of Sderot at around 2:30 a.m. Another woman was treated for light injuries sustained while running to a bomb shelter.
Pictures and videos shared on social media showed a kitchen blown apart in the damaged home in Sderot, windows smashed and large holes in walls and a roof.
“We didn’t hear the siren and suddenly there was a loud blast,” Shlomo Malka, the owner of the house, told Ynet news. “We got out of bed and ran to the bomb shelter. When we came out we saw everything was destroyed. The whole kitchen is in shambles, the food for Shabbat is ruined.”
From the shrapnel impact in Sderot
(Video: Roy Idan, Ynet) pic.twitter.com/Yb8s8D07NG
— Emanuel (Mannie) Fabian (@manniefabian) August 21, 2020
Other videos and pictures showed several Iron Dome interceptor missiles being launched over the city and light damage to the outside of a home.
— כאן חדשות (@kann_news) August 20, 2020
מזירת הפגיעה בשדרות. לא ברור האם מדובר בפגיעת קסאם או רסיסי יירוט (קרדיט לא ידוע) pic.twitter.com/kvK3xoykPW
— מנדי ריזל (@mendi_rizel) August 21, 2020
The army said rocket warning sirens sounded in Sderot and surrounding communities.
The rocket attack came shortly after Israeli planes carried out airstrikes in the Gaza Strip, hitting a rocket production facility, according to the Israel Defense Forces.
The Hamas-linked Shehab news agency said the strikes occurred west of Beit Lahiya in the northern Strip. There were no immediate reports of damage.
Palestinian reports just before 6 a.m. indicated fresh airstrikes were underway as the tit-for-tat round of fighting showed no signs of slowing.
Thursday morning began with Israeli tanks shelling Hamas targets inside the Strip in pre-dawn hours. Over the course of the day, at least 42 fires were sparked by balloon-borne incendiary devices lofted from Gaza, according to the Fire and Rescue Service. A statement from the fire service said most of the blazes were small and didn’t pose any danger to people or property.
The balloons gave way to rockets after the sun set, with the IDF saying two rockets were fired out of Gaza, but failed to reach Israeli territory.
Israel soon after carried out airstrikes, which were followed by a fresh rocket attack just before midnight. All three rockets were downed by the Iron Dome anti-missile system, the IDF said.
Over the past few weeks, terrorists in the enclave have again begun launching balloon-borne incendiary and explosive devices into southern Israel, sparking dozens of fires that caused environmental and property damage in the region.
There have also been several rocket attacks on southern Israeli towns, which so far have caused no casualties and little damage.
Those attacks have drawn daily retaliatory Israeli strikes against Hamas installations.
On Tuesday, Gaza officials announced that the Strip’s sole power station had run out of fuel and would stop operating. Israel cut off fuel transfers via the Kerem Shalom crossing a week ago as a punitive measure following the rocket and balloon attacks.
Also on Tuesday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel would respond to airborne arson attacks in the same manner it does rocket attacks, and warned that there could be another major flareup in Gaza.
“I regret that we are also preparing, to the extent necessary, for the possibility of a round or rounds [of fighting]. I hope that we will not get there,” he told local leaders of Gaza-area communities.
AFP contributed to this report.